12 Jun 2017 18:09 IST


This sleepy town in Shropshire has all the traditional charms of medieval England

John Betjeman described Ludlow as ‘probably the loveliest town in England’. An observation of this nature by a former Poet Laureate of the UK cannot be taken lightly. We set out to explore if the market town was as ‘perfect’ as it was being made out to be.

Nestled in the Welsh Marches — the England-Wales borderlands — the area has sloping hills, valleys and castles that will move the most hardened cynic. The town is in the county of Shropshire, which is famous for its Ironbridge Gorge that has been awarded World Heritage status for being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.

Ludlow’s medieval street pattern endures almost untouched, along with many old buildings including a castle in ruins and St Laurence’s, one of the largest parish churches in Blighty. Contemporary edifices are uncommon in the town centre, whose streets are lined with medieval and Georgian buildings. Broad Street, which leads from Buttercross down through Broadgate, has often been touted as the most attractive in England.

We started our walk at St Laurence’s, which has stood in the centre of Ludlow for 550 years. We went past Reader’s House, which dates back to the early 14th century and has since been used as a grammar school, museum and official residence of the reader — one of the assistant clergy in the church of St Laurence. The house has a three-storey timber-framed porch with intricate carvings. A passer-by told us it had been restored by a couple of archaeologists a few years ago who then put it on the market for £650,000. So, it is now a family home.

We carried on to The Bull Hotel, the oldest part of which dates back to the 12th century. The inn became known as The Bull Hotel in the 15th century and the name was likely to have originated from the fact that bull baiting took place in its courtyard. A short distance away is The Feathers Hotel, described as ‘that prodigy of timber-framed houses’ in The Buildings of England and in The New York Times as the ‘most handsome inn in the world’. The 17th-century half-timbered building is well-known for its Jacobean façade.

There are almost 500 listed buildings in the town, including five grade I-listed buildings. A listed structure in the UK is one that is on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. Grade I buildings are of ‘exceptional interest’, according to Historic England. Less than three per cent of listed buildings are grade I.

Apart from St Laurence’s, Reader’s House and Feather’s Hotel, the Buttercross and Ludlow Castle are all grade I buildings. On the way to Buttercross, we went past the bakers, butchers and candle-makers as well as book shops, antique and craft shops. My two-year-old twins stopped outside an independent shop selling cast iron bells designed like stag heads, squirrels, dogs and birds. They had a go at pulling all the bells. There were plenty of indulgent smiles around

The handsome Buttercross was built in the 18th century and it originally served as a market where people could buy butter, eggs and fresh produce. It now houses Ludlow Museum, which is visited by more than 20,000 people each year.

Ludlow Castle has dominated the town since it was built in 1086 by Walter de Lacy, a trusted member of William the Conqueror’s team. King Richard III’s unfortunate nephews Edward and Richard, who were banished to the Tower of London by their uncle and murdered in 1483, spent their childhood in Ludlow Castle.

By now, I’d had enough of the gruesome tales of bloodthirsty lords and kings. I escaped to the Castle tea rooms with my children. We ordered lemon drizzle cake and bara brith, a Welsh miners’ fruit cake served with butter. I also bought some lavender shortbread, scented with lavender blossoms!

The castle hosts events throughout the year, including Ludlow Spring Marches Transport Festival, Ludlow Food Festival and Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre. A couple I met at the tea room told me the Christmas Fayre in particular attracts much attention. Bargain hunters scramble to purchase from exhibitors dressed in medieval finery anything from jams, chutneys, marmalades and sausage rolls to paintings, scarves, decorative glassware and jewellery. Wandering minstrels, carol singing, wassailing... age-old traditions come alive at the fair.

As we walked back to the car park, I wondered if there ever has been a visitor to Ludlow who hasn’t wished they lived there. I doubt it.

(Nivedita Choudhuri is a UK-based writer. The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine's BLInk.)

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